Pregnancy is such a delicate time in a woman’s life. Despite doing everything “right,” there are still things that can go wrong. Many of these things are unexpected, and they can really catch you off guard.
For me, placenta previa is what took me by surprise during pregnancy. I will never forget it: I walked out of my first OBGYN appointment at 7 weeks pregnant, and was so excited that we schedule our first sonogram. I was on cloud 9.
After the appointment, my husband and I stopped at a store. Everything was fine, and then I suddenly felt a strange feeling of moisture in my pants. As a woman, you know the feeling I’m talking about.
Needless to say, I ran to the bathroom and was horrified when I saw massive amounts of blood. I was convinced that I lost the baby. I called my OBGYN right away, and went into the office the next day. I was elated when I found out that I was still pregnant, and that I could not only see the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor – but that I could hear it. And boy, was it strong!
I thought that the bleeding was done and that we were in the clear. Nope. It continued to happen every few days. Every time it happened, my heart stopped beating, called my doctor and had to have an emergency ultrasound. In fact, the bleeding got so bad one night that I went to the emergency room and was convinced that I had a miscarriage. It was after that incident that my doctor finally determined what was wrong: I had placenta previa and was labeled a high-risk pregnancy.
Of course, my doctor gave me detailed information about my condition, and I read every piece of literature about placenta previa that I could find.
What is it? How can it affect you and your baby? Here’s what you need to know about placenta previa.
10 What is the Placenta?
An organ that only existed in pregnant women, the placenta serves as the main source of life support for a developing baby. It provides the baby with oxygen and vital nutrients, and filters out the things that aren’t needed via the umbilical cord, which is attached to the baby and the placenta.
9 What is Placenta Previa?
The placenta attaches to the uterus, and normally, it attaches high up, away from the cervix. However, in placenta previa, the placenta attaches low in the uterus, covering all or part of the cervix.
Because the placenta is so nutrient rich and full of blood, when it is located near the cervix, that blood can leak out of the cervix, sending an expectant mom – like I was – into a state of panic.
8 There are Different Types of Placenta Previa
Not all previas are the same. There are three different types, which include:
- Partial – The placenta covers a portion of the cervical opening (the type that I was diagnosed with)
- Marginal – The placenta borders the cervix
- Complete – The placenta completely covers the cervical opening
In all cases of previa, the cervix – the birth canal – is blocked by the placenta.
7 Is Placenta Previa Common?
Actually, yes! Approximately 15 percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with some form of previa in their second trimester – and many don’t even know they have it! The condition is usually detected during a routine ultrasound.
In the first trimester, a diagnoses of previa is rare, but it can happen (obviously, because I was diagnosed at just 11 weeks and exhibited symptoms of the condition at just 7 weeks.) Placenta previa is even more rare during the third trimester; only about 150 to 300 women are diagnosed with the condition during the final trimester of pregnancy.
6 Diagnosis and Outlook
It depends. If previa presents during the first or second trimester, it usually isn’t a problem. Because the uterus grows at such a rapid rate during pregnancy, the condition usually resolves itself (as the uterus grows, the placenta moves up and away from the cervix, opening the birth canal. This is what happened for me, thank goodness!)
If a diagnosis of previa is made during the third trimester, it is problematic. Because the uterus has reached, or is near reaching, its full size, it is unlikely that the placenta will move up and away from the birth canal. This means that the baby does not have a way to access the birth canal on her big day.
5 Are There Risk Factors?
While placenta previa can happen in any pregnancy, there are certain factors that can make the risk of developing the condition greater, including:
- Your age at pregnancy. Pregnant women over the age of 30 are more likely to develop the condition than younger women.
- The amount of times you have been pregnant. Women who have had multiple pregnancies are more prone to developing previa.
- A multiple pregnancy. Being pregnant with two or more babies increases the chances of previa.
- Uterine abnormalities. An abnormally shaped uterus or scarring within the uterus increases the likelihood of developing previa.
4 Signs, Symptoms and Diagnosis
As previously mentioned, previa is usually diagnosed during a routine ultrasound. For many women, there aren’t any signs or symptoms; however, in some cases, symptoms to present, and they can include:
- Bleeding – Again, as previously mentioned, the placenta is a nutrient-rich, blood filled organ. As a result, when it is located over the cervix, vaginal bleeding can occur. This bleeding can vary from slight spotting to heavy, bright red blood. The latter is what I experienced.
3 How Serious is Bleeding?
Bleeding is not uncommon during pregnancy. Many women experience some form of vaginal bleeding, even if they don’t have previa. Typically, vaginal bleeding is minor and occurs in either the early stages of pregnancy (implantation bleeding, for example), or near the end of pregnancy (loss of the mucus plug, for instance.)
In cases of placenta previa, bleeding usually isn’t problematic; however, there are cases when it can be serious. Excessive blood loss can put you and your baby at risk. If you are in the later stages of pregnancy and experience significant bleeding, an emergency deliver via C-section may be required. If the baby is not full-term, or close to it, and there is excessive blood loss, a blood transfusion may be necessary. Fortunately, I did not require any treatment and the condition resolved itself without having any impact on me or the baby.
2 Treating Placenta Previa
There is no way to prevent placenta previa, or to physically move the placenta; however, there are measures that can be taken to ensure a safe pregnancy, particularly in cases where bleeding presents.
- Pelvic rest is usually recommended. If your doctor recommends pelvic rest, you will need to abstain from intercourse, avoid using tampons or douches, and you will not be able to have pelvic exams.
- Increased monitoring of the baby. In order to ensure that the baby is not being impacted by the condition, your doctor may want to increase fetal monitoring. I had to have an ultrasound twice a week, until the condition resolved. Even then, I had to have ultrasounds every two weeks for the remainder of my pregnancy.
- Bed rest may be necessary, and depending on the stage of your pregnancy and how severe the condition is, your bed rest may need to take place in a hospital.
1 Labor and Delivery with Placenta Previa
If you are diagnosed with placenta previa during your third trimester, a cesarean section will likely be necessary. Since the placenta likely won’t move during the final stages of pregnancy, there is no way for the baby to access the birth canal. This is particularly true in cases of complete previa; however, while a vaginal birth may be necessary in marginal or partial previa, a C-section may still be required to ensure a safe delivery.
If your practitioner does recommend a C-section, it will more than likely be scheduled before labor begins.